My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea isn't quite a movie, but that's not as bad as it sounds: that is to say, it's more of a showcase for writer/director Dash Shaw's imaginative visual style than it is a completely satisfying story. Shaw, a cartoonist, has made his feature-length filmmaking debut with a project that doesn't completely cross the gap between the two art forms, containing plenty of little moments that would probably play as more insightful or emotionally compelling if they had the time to sink in provided by the processing of individual comic book panels rather than as part of a fairly brisk 77-minute movie (which runs even shorter once one factors in the suspiciously slow closing credit crawl).
High School's relative weightlessness can be attributed to Shaw's screenplay. The story isn't poorly written, but there's a certain simplicity to it that makes the film feel as if it doesn't have a center of gravity. Dash doesn't have a larger arc than his need to apologize to Assaf and Verti, the sinking of the school is never really attributed to any sort of grand scheme (while there's more explanation beyond what Dash finds, it doesn't change the nature of the incident), and the impending rescue by helicopter isn't really presented as a ticking clock. The characters make their way from the bottom floor of the school, where the juniors reside, up through toward the top floors where the seniors are. Along the way, Dash, Verti, and Assaf are joined by other students, including junior class president Mary (Lena Dunham), grizzled school lunch lady Lorraine (Susan Sarandon), and bully Drake (Alex Karpovsky).
The real reason to watch the movie is to see Shaw experiment with whatever kind of animation strikes his fancy, all rooted in the story or emotional needs of the scene. The characters are drawn with thicker black lines in times of deep stress, sometimes changing colors or being animated with a visual pattern across their face. In a scene where one character reveals themselves to be a bad friend, the word "team" appears and disappears from her sweatshirt, and one action sequence has the fixed-view and repetitive movement of an old-fashioned side-scrolling video game (ala Streets of Fire). In terms of technique, throughout the film, viewers will notice everything from traditional hand-drawn animation to the animation of cut-out construction paper, overlays of live-action visuals of things like fire and dribbling blackness that flows over the screen. Shaw even occasionally hands the film off to a completely distinct alternate visual style (such as a flashback where Dash summarizes what defines his and Assad's friendship).
Tonally, the film is a bit odd: although the movie is being distributed by GKids, this is more of a comedy aimed at an audience of 25-year-olds or so. The sinking of the school and the fate of the majority of the kids inside is basically played as a joke, resulting in the movie's PG-13 rating. Conceptually, there's nothing wrong with this, but Shaw may have done better to emphasize the childlike fantasy aspect of the film. The heightened emotions of Dash and Assaf's friendship being weakened and the revenge that Dash gets on many of his bullies and doubters throughout the film represent a lens that would filter the movie through a teenage POV, but the deaths simply end up feeling a bit more real than Shaw may have intended.
The Video and Audio
Lastly, under the "setup" menu, one can find an audio commentary by Dash Shaw for the main feature. It's a little disappointing that he isn't joined by lead animator Jane Samborski (also his wife), but unlike the featurette, in which he comes off a little nervous, he seems more prepared and covers a number of topics about the production of the film that he doesn't cover in the video extra.
An original theatrical trailer for My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea is also included.